Registered nurses at Nathan Littauer Hospital took to the picket lines with signs and slogans this morning in a planned one-day strike after more than two years of fruitless negotiations with management for a new contract.
Between 100 and 120 nurses cycled through the picket lines from 7 a.m. through the evening as passing cars honked in support.
The nurses committed to a one-day strike, but the hospital has said it will lock them out until Monday. In the meantime, temporary replacements have been hired to keep the hospital running.
The nurses have been working without a contract since late 2013. A federal mediator is overseeing the current negotiations between the nurses and hospital management.
In the negotiations, the roughly 130 members of the New York State Nurses Association have been pushing for increased staffing at the hospital, pay raises, more affordable health insurance, and more time off.
The hospital has accused them of masking selfish requests as concern for patients and demanding preferred treatment over the hospital’s other 850 employees.
Outside the hospital today, the nurses made patient care the focal point of their campaign, accusing management of putting “profit over patients” by not acting to reduce nursing shortages that lower the quality of care.
“This really showcases the resolve these nurses have,” said NYSNA Senior Communications Manager Tara Martin. “They wouldn’t be out here, losing five days worth of pay in these frigid temperatures if it wasn’t something serious that they’re fighting for.”
Hospital officials closed their contact with the media as of 7:30 this morning “in the best interest of our patients,” but said the hospital remains fully staffed with licensed and non-union nurses.
According to the statement, “Patients are being treated by many familiar faces while experiencing seamless, compassionate and professional care.”
“We are busy and we have work to do,” the statement read. “For us, this is just another Wednesday.”
Two hours later, the hospital announced that the National Labor Relations Board had dismissed a charge of bad-faith bargaining filed against Nathan Littauer by NYSNA. That was the third such charge to be dismissed, though more than a dozen other charges are pending, according to the NLRB.
Lana Wydra, vice president of human resources at the hospital, said in a statement that the dismissal of the suit affirmed that “Nathan Littauer has bargained fairly at all times with the best interests of our patients, employees and community in mind.”
Martin rejected that conclusion, accusing the hospital of cherry-picking its information.
“We have filed tons of (unfair labor practice) charges against this hospital,” she said. “For them to talk about one minor charge that was thrown out in relation to all the other charges that have been actually found to have merit is ludicrous on its face.”
Marion Enright, a registered nurse at Nathan Littauer and president of the hospital’s NYSNA chapter, said the nurses are sticking to their one-day strike. If they aren’t allowed back to work Thursday morning, as the hospital has said, they’ll rally outside the hospital each day at noon, she said.
“Tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock, we will be ready, willing and able to go back to work,” Enright said Wednesday. “It’s up to the hospital if they let us or not.”
The nurses will be joined Thursday by Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO. The nurses were supported today by a handful of allied trade unions, Martin said.
The most recent bargaining session for the nurses union was Sunday and lasted seven hours. Enright said she expects the federal mediator to try to schedule a new session after the one-day strike, but nothing was scheduled as of this afternoon.
“If they give us dates, we will be back at the table to bargain and negotiate,” Martin said. “We’ll do everything we can to settle this contract.”
Reach Gazette reporter Kyle Adams at 723-0811, [email protected]